Thursday, March 31, 2016

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Plutonium

The already failed and contaminated nuclear storage facility in Carlsbad, NM (WIPP, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant), which was recently closed when it started spewing radiation contaminated air into the surrounding communities from its ventilation system, is set to start receiving plutonium from the contaminated Savannah River nuclear storage facility in South Carolina, the local paper reports today.

Could that be because, at the same time, plutonium is being loaded onto ships in Japan for transport to Savannah River? Some of that plutonium headed our way is being collected up by Japan from France and other places.

The question probably should be, Does it even matter if all the plutonium in the world is headed for Carlsbad?

There's only one earth and we're dispersing plutonium throughout it pretty rapidly. Radioactive water from the melted down reactors in Fukishima, Japan is seeping into the Pacific Ocean from contaminated groundwater at the rate of several tons per day. That place could still blow up. They have so far only been removing spent fuel rods from the damaged storage pools. The robots they've sent into the contaminated core areas have been melting. They are now saying it will probably take 100 years to clean that place up.

A couple of the reactors actually melted down, and they haven't even begun the task of getting the masses of molten nuclear material out yet. One of them is burrowing itself into the ground and is out of reach of their cameras. Hopefully they will still be able to get cooling water to it. To keep the molten masses from exploding they have to constantly pump sea water onto them and some of it is getting into the ocean. The rest of it is being pumped into big storage tanks being built out of steel panels as fast as they can make them. To save time they aren't welding the seams, only bolting the panels together. Some of those leak.

You see old rusty water towers all over the USA, but how long does one last before it starts leaking, and collapses when the walls rust out? Plutonium will last hundreds of thousands of years, many time longer than the longest lived civilizations have lasted. Long, long after anything we build today has weathered away and returned to dust, the plutonium in those tanks will still be cooking away.

Plutonium -- what's being shipped to WIPP and coming from Japan in ships, besides causing tumors and various kinds of cancers and lukemias, spontaneously ignites when it gets damp. It "expands up to 70% in volume as it oxidizes and thus may break its container," says Wikipedia.

That's why, in the 2,000 foot deep caverns of the Carlsbad WIPP, it's packed in -- I'm not kidding -- kitty litter. If you've ever had a cat, you know that after a little while the kitty litter has absorbed all the moisture it can and your house starts to smell.  If you've even been in a basement you know it stays damp down there all year around.

What will happen if there's another Fukishima? Then another? Chernobyl was finally solved by simply burying it under a huge dome of concrete. Who knows what's going on under there. They will never let out complete information, there or here. What about earthquakes? Will we be able to clean the disasters up fast enough? And where do we put what we clean up? Down underground in damp caves, along fault lines?

Plutonium has a half life that varies with its form, ranging from 88 years to millions of years. The half life of the most common form is 366,000 years. That means that in 366,000 years it will only be half as deadly. Or you could say, if you can get a tumor from standing 100 feet from it now, in 366,000 years you'll have to be 50 feet from it. In other words, for all practical purposes, it's never going to stop causing tumors, even if there's anything left alive for a tumor to grow in.

1 comment:

  1. Yikes! Another seemingly intractable problem...